The surprise hiring of Tim Leiweke as chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment last Friday truly puts a face on the organization, something it hasn't really had since Richard Peddie retired. And given Leiweke's past work with AEG, the full and/or part-owners of the Los Angeles Kings, Lakers and Galaxy, it's higher-profile face and one with a track record of on-field success.
Virtually any positive development that comes out of a Toronto sports franchise needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But even the most jaded observers can agree that is a major step in the right direction. And the first franchise it is big news for is the Toronto Raptors.
"From my standpoint, [it's important] to jump into the Raptors," Leiweke said last Friday during a conference call with reporters, hours after the out-of-the-blue announcement of his hiring.
Leiweke, 55, is an NBA guy in his heart of hearts.
After beginning his management career in the Major Indoor Soccer League, his first high-profile jobs within the big four team sports were as a vice-president of the Minnesota Timberwolves and later as president of the Denver Nuggets.
It's why after being dismissed as a complete pipedream last week, rumours of Phil Jackson possibly coming to the Raptors in a management role have been lent at least some credence with his close friend Leiweke on board.
"Phil and I talked this week," Leiweke said. "But only because he had heard the rumours about [me coming to] Toronto.
"He called me to tell me what a great city it is. It's too early to speculate."
One thing most can agree on is that the hiring of Leiweke does put Bryan Colangelo's future as Raptors president and general manager in more doubt than likely existed a week ago. That said, given the team's current roster construction, it might not be inconceivable to see Colangelo back in the short term.
"I talked to Bryan today," Leiweke said last Friday. "I'm clearly not in the position to be the best one to make this decision since I'm joining late and I'm not even going to be full time when they make this decision [Leiweke begins his job at the end of June].
"That said, the board is leaning on me to give a recommendation."
While Leiweke used all the right marketing buzzwords about the Raptors -- he repeatedly alluded to the franchise's fan base "of 36 million" (wishful thinking of all of Canada becoming Raptors fans, but something we haven't really heard used since the Vince Carter days -- he knows he has challenges with the wider perception of the franchise.
"I was a little puzzled ... when I was learning and doing some due diligence with the Raptors that there seemed to be some belief ... that players didn't want to go to [Toronto] or players didn't want to stay or maybe it wasn't as hot of a NBA marketplace as it could be," Leiweke said.
"I disagree with that."
The fact of the matter is that Toronto is viewed as a great place to visit, not a great place to live if you are an NBA player. Yet having a winning record, something the Raptors have had in only five of their 18 seasons, can change that.
Hence, the chicken or the egg thing.
No, the Raptors will never be the Lakers, Miami Heat or New York Knicks. Yet given the market and resources at their disposal and perhaps not forgetting the wave of Canadian basketball talent that is already crashing into the NBA shoreline, they can -- and must -- become a Top 10 franchise and player destination. That's why Leiweke is a smart hire.
"Trophies," he said, is how his success will be measured. And unlike his predecessors at MLSE, he actually has experience with those.
--The Chicago Bulls' crazy season continues with contributions from someone different every night. Saturday's epic, triple-overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets, in addition to being a score (142-134) straight out of 1988, puts them in a position to end the series Monday. With that will come more Derrick Rose questions. Rose's de facto spokesman, his brother Reggie, said this weekend that a second-round return for the point guard might happen.
On the one hand, you can't necessarily hold it against Rose for not wanting to return until he's 100 per cent. The issue has been the way the Bulls have left the door open with it. While that's noble of them to leave the ball in his court so to speak, it also opens Rose up to all the heat he's been taking. In chatting with two Bulls beat reporters a few weeks ago, both of them laid blame squarely at the feet of the organization.
--The Lakers' season from hell came to an ignominious end Sunday night, shaming those of us who actually considered them capable of winning a title this year. While you have to wonder how a healthy Kobe Bryant could have affected the series with the San Antonio Spurs, the truth is they were done at mid-season. Mike D'Antoni, even with a 40-32 record after taking over in November, proved he could not coach this group of players. Victoria's Steve Nash is not far from being done. And Dwight Howard feels like a square peg in a round hole in L.A.
Where the Lakers go from here is anybody's guess. In Montana, Phil Jackson is snickering.
--The Spurs are looking good right now. With Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook out for the playoffs after injuring his knee against the Houston Rockets, the Western Conference favourites have taken a huge hit and San Antonio has time to rest its veteran legs.
Follow John Chick on Twitter @roofthatpeach
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